Jake hunkered down behind the glassless window, setting the cup of steaming take-out coffee down beside him. Stakeouts were nothing new, but this one was different. The suspect wasn’t human; wasn’t a suspect really. It was hard to believe that a hard-nosed, cynical Irish beat cop would go to all this trouble to capture one scruffy, ill-tempered scrap of a kitty cat.
He took a sip of the coffee, cursing under his breath when it burned his tongue. When he’d decided to go ahead with this scheme, he’d rigged a live animal trap from descriptions in a book he’d found in one of the old library buildings. Libraries were one of the first things to go when society broke down, but the books were still there, covered in dust and spider webs.
Bait was easy — he’d been tossing scraps to the little feline for over six months now and he knew her preferences. Funny little thing, she preferred her meat cooked. Chicken, fried like they used to do it in those fast food places you saw on history shows, would draw her into the cage, and once the trap door shut, he’d have her. A soft thud alerted him and he stilled, his eyes narrowing as he searched the shadows of the deserted warehouse.
The little stray leapt into view from the top of a pile of dusty cartons. Her fur stuck up in unkempt clumps, affirming his decision to capture her for her own good. Once he got her home, he could look after her properly and put a little meat on her scrawny frame. Her attention flicked to the lump of chicken in the trap but she took her time, scouting the area first. Tail lashing back and forth, ears pricked forward on high alert, she stalked the perimeter of the warehouse space.
Jake suppressed a chuckle even as he respected the tiny creature’s security precautions. Life had become much tougher after the collapse of the World Economic Council, and this was one of the roughest parts of the city. She might be small, but his soon-to-be little pet was a survivor.
Satisfied there was no imminent danger, the little cat padded toward the makeshift trap, her head tilted quizzically to the side. Probably wondering what this new contraption in her territory was and why it was there. Her nose twitched as she inched forward, stalking the chicken as if it were a mouse.
Jake held his breath as she entered the trap, her attention centered on the food. It seemed like forever before her entire body was inside the cage and the gate slammed down, ensnaring her just as she took the first dainty bite of the prize. Tiny as she was, the feline exploded into a snarling, spitting bundle of pissed-off fur, and Jake chuckled at the display of temper. He guessed she’d weigh less than ten pounds dripping wet, yet she acted as though she thought she were a full-sized tigress.
He unfolded himself from the chair and took another sip of his coffee. Now that she was secured, he wasn’t in any hurry to face the little wildcat. Sauntering over to the trap, he stared down at his prize.
* * *
The motorcycle skidded to a halt outside a block of government-sponsored employee housing, and Katrina glared through the bars of her prison at the broad uniform-clad back of the man who’d strapped the trap to the cargo platform on the battered twenty-first century Harley. One of the beat cops, better known these days as Enforcers, he’d been bringing her tasty tidbits and leaving them in the warehouse for months now. She’d thought he was a nice guy, a friend even. In hindsight, it had been a nefarious scheme to allay her natural cynicism and capture her. When she got out of this damn box, she’d make him pay.
Kat refused to acknowledge the tiny frisson of fear creeping up her spine. What would a muscle-bound street cop want with an underfed, scruffy brown alley cat? Whatever it was, he’d find out she was one tough little kitty.
The Enforcer snapped the kickstand down and killed the engine. In the sudden quiet, he turned and looked at her. Kat arched her back and hissed, glaring at him in what she hoped was an intimidating manner. To her disgust, the man cooed some silly nonsense and then unsnapped the cargo net holding her prison to the bike. Grasping the handle on top of the trap, he strode toward the building’s entrance.
Kat braced herself against the uneven movements of the trap. She could see a stone wall and an iron door, and then they were inside. She tried to memorize their path through the twisted hallways, but the swinging motion of the cage left her feeling ill. They paused, and she heard the distinct click of a lock, the creak of hinges in need of a good oiling. Then her cage landed on a blessedly solid surface, and she spent the next several moments concentrating on getting her stomach settled.
“Hang in there and I’ll get you some food. We need to put some meat on that scrawny little frame of yours or people will think I’m starving you.” His voice held the same concern and sexy lilting quality that had convinced her to trust him for the past few months. Only now she knew better. The asshole had been planning to lull her into getting careless so he could trap her, and she had no idea why. He couldn’t possibly know she was a shifter. Or could he?
Shifters were very valuable on the illicit slave markets, fetching high prices at auction. The lucky ones were used as sex slaves. She shuddered at the stories she’d heard about those auctions, and the men who purchased the poor creatures offered for sale. She’d always been so careful, and yet here she was sitting in a cage in some damned Enforcer’s quarters. She glared at the man’s back, her nose twitching at the enticing smell coming from beyond him. Salmon?
“You’ll like this. I’ve been saving it for a special occasion.” The sound of an electric can opener humming filled the small room. “I guess our first day together is about as special as it gets.” He turned and Kat saw the small dish he held in the palm of his hand. A pet food dish filled with flaked canned salmon. She stared at him in disbelief. “I’m going to make a sandwich out of mine, but I’m betting you’re hungry now.” He slipped the small dish through the bars of the cage. “I hate to leave you in that cage all night, but I think it’s best we get to know each other a little better before I give you the run of the house.”
Kat hissed scornfully, ignoring the aroma of freshly flaked salmon with more willpower than she’d known she had.
He looked disappointed. “Okay, I get it. You’re a little pissed at the moment.”
A little pissed? You think?
“Give it a few days and I’m sure we’ll get along famously.” He scraped the rest of the fish into a bowl before rummaging around in the fridge.
Not if I manage to scratch your eyes out first. What the hell are you looking for in that damned icebox?
“You are such a pretty little thing. I just know you’re going to make a great pet.”
Pet? You think I’m going to sit in your lap and purr while you run your fingers through my fur? You are clearly delusional! Kat threw in another hiss in case he’d missed the first few.
“I’ve never had a pet before, and I get the feeling you’ve never had a home, so we can learn together.” He hummed, mixing whatever he’d pulled out of the fridge into the bowl of salmon before spooning the mixture onto a hunk of bread and squishing another slice on top.
Oh, I had a home all right — until my asshole of a boyfriend kicked me out when I lost my job. Seems I wasn’t as attractive without an income. That’s what guys do when push comes to shove. Forget all the times we spent together, it’s every cat for herself. I vowed never to trust a male again, and you definitely look male to me.
Extremely male. As in red-haired Irish male with a mouth-watering physique and a raw sex appeal that sent waves of unadulterated lust sizzling along her spine. Just her luck, she’d come into heat this morning and the Enforcer’s mere presence was pushing every button in her fuck-me-now hormonal state.
“I don’t think I introduced myself. My name’s Jake, and until I know you a bit better I’ll just call you Kitty, okay?”
Kat glared at him and raked the sides of her prison with her claws. Not okay. My name is Kat. As in Katarina. Just because you caught me doesn’t mean you get to change my name. A pity the damn cop couldn’t read minds. The idiot was chewing on his sandwich and cooing at her like he expected her to be happy about his betrayal of her trust. He obviously wasn’t any smarter than the rest of the males she’d ever met.
He undid his shirt and plunked down in a chair at the table, putting his tightly muscled chest at eye level. Despite her annoyance, Kat felt a flicker of lust working its way down her belly to settle deep in her groin. Damn that looks tasty. I wonder… She managed to stop herself from imagining what the rest of him would look like nude. Enforcers were a tough breed, and he undoubtedly had the physique to go with the job.
“Not going to eat? I’ll just leave it there for now. You might change your mind later, once you settle in a bit.” He stood and stretched, and the sight of those tight jeans wrapped around his muscular thighs sent Kat’s hormones into overdrive. It sucked when her body paid more attention to its hormonal state than she did.
She let out a frustrated yowl that should have warned him things weren’t quite what he thought, but the damn guy just cooed some banal goodnight and disappeared through the doorway, leaving her simmering with rage and unresolved lust.
Kat paced the cage as best she could while the sounds from the far room indicated that the Enforcer hadn’t retired for the night yet. Patience had never been one of her better qualities, and she barely managed to contain herself as she waited for him to settle down for the night.
Probably in a bed. A nice soft bed. Naked. His kind, the tough Enforcer cop kind, always slept naked. She could almost picture him, his beautiful abs waiting to be caressed by her willing fingers… his big Enforcer-sized cock lying stretched out across one thigh…
She shook her head, berating her overactive imagination. Damn hormones, always putting her into places she didn’t want to be. She tilted her head to one side. It seemed pretty quiet now, but she’d better give him a bit more time before she made good on her escape. The way her luck had been running lately, the damned Enforcer would be sitting up in bed watching a chick-flick on the Holo-grid. A feline smile curved her lips at the thought of the big, tough Jake watching something designed to con female humans into believing in true love. She snorted in disgust. Even she’d bought into the concept until her last boyfriend tossed her out without so much as a thank you.
So much for true love and happily ever after. She’d spent the last six months cursing her gullibility while she scrounged the garbage cans behind the high-class restaurants for dinner and squatted in a deserted basement. She’d enrolled in business classes during the day, determined to never again be dependent on a male for food or shelter.
She lifted her head. The deliciously tempting smell of aroused male filled her nostrils and she felt the heat building inside her. Apparently, those weren’t chick-flicks he’d been watching. She needed to get out of here. Now. Before she did something she’d regret. Slipping her front leg between the bars, she closed her eyes and concentrated on a partial shift. Most were-cats were unable to master the manoeuvre, but Kat had had lots of time in the last few months to practice. Not much else to do in the basement of a deserted tenement when sleep was slow to come.
She felt the fur receding, muscles and bone reforming. She held her breath, steeling herself to wait until she could feel her hand, could wriggle each finger individually. There! Twisting her wrist, she reached for the lock of the cage. Snick. The simple catch fell open at her touch, the door swung wide. So there, Enforcer. Not so easy to keep this little cat caged.
Kat pulled her hand back into the cage and scooted free, turning to glare at the offending pile of metal. Crouching in a corner of the room, she relaxed. After the partial change, a full shift was easy. She concentrated and let the change sweep over her.
Fully human now, she stood and stretched her arms above her head as she luxuriated in her human form. She’d spent way too much time lately trapped in her cat form, unable to risk being seen. She looked around and located the doorway. Now all she had to do was get out of here without waking the Enforcer up. That would be assuming he’d gone to sleep.
She stopped at the doorway, peering cautiously out into the hallway. She could see a large room at the end. Probably the living room where they’d entered the apartment. She tiptoed in that direction, being careful to set her feet down quietly. The last thing she needed was to have a creaking floorboard wake up the Enforcer.
She passed the first two doorways without incident, a bathroom and a very messy office. She glanced into the last doorway and froze. Sprawled across a king-sized bed, the Enforcer was deliciously naked. His shock of flaming red hair lay mussed in childlike disarray on the pillows, framing his angular face. Her gaze strayed lower, to the ropes of muscle crisscrossing his massive chest and the tempting flat belly. Lower still, his impressive cock lay across one stocky thigh just like she’d imagined it, while his balls lay in a curly nest of hair, just inviting her to touch.
She sucked in a deep breath as heat flooded her body. In a different time and place, she wouldn’t hesitate to stop and dally with such a yummy male, but those days were long gone. The world was a tough place for a kitty on her own. She couldn’t afford to be here when he woke up, and time was a wasting. Still…
She glided a few steps toward the bed. What if she turned the tables on him? She felt the corner of her mouth turn up in an evil gin. He was a cop; there must be handcuffs around here somewhere.